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British Industrial History

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Soudley Iron Works

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Looking north, 2014

in Soudley, Forest of Dean, Glos.

Also known as Sewdley and Lower Soudley Ironworks.

Coke-fuelled furnaces were erected in 1837 by Edward Protheroe and Co, but they became idle in 1841. In 1857 Benjamin Gibbons purchased the works and kept them in blast for a year or so. He sold them to Alfred Goold in 1863. An attempt was made to sell the works in 1866 (see below), but the sale was withdrawn. The works were apparently sold by Goold Bros after December 1870 to Maximillian Low. One furnace was in blast from 1871 to 1875.[1]

1842 Advert: 'Sewdley Iron Works, At AYLAFORD, FOREST of DEAN, Within three Miles of Newnham, and two Miles from Blakeney.
TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, In suitable Lots, on the Premises, on Thursday, the 27th of October, at eleven o’clock precisely;— By JAMES KARN,
The whole of the valuable MACHINERY, ENGINES, BLOWING APPARATUS, PIPES, and STOCK of every description at the said Works, which are nearly new, and in excellent condition; consisting principally of 2 thirty-two-inch Cylinder Condensing Engines, connected by Fly-Wheel and Shaft, with Blowing Apparatus complete; Boilers, Steam-Pipes, &c.; also the Materials of a Refinery, about 300 Tons of various sorts of Bar and Cast-Iron, Leather, Brasses, Trams, Winches, Moulds, Patterns, Barrows, Chairs, and all Utensils and Tools usually appertaining to Iron Works. The Materials of Carpenters’ and Smiths’ Shops complete, with a variety of other Articles, which will be noticed in the Sale Catalogues. If purchased together, the above would be sufficient for a complete Establishment of Two Blast Furnaces and Refinery. For further particulars, apply to Mr. James Karn, Auctioneer, Newnham ; or, by permission of the Landlord, to Wm. Virgo, on the premises.'[2]
NOTE: This is assumed to be the same Soudley Iron Works, but the reference to Aylaford (Ayleford) is confusing.

1866 Advert: 'FOREST OF DEAN.
SOUDLEY IRON WORKS.
TO BE SOLD BY AUCTION, By Mr. JAMES KARN,
At the Spread Eagle Hotel, Gloucester, on Thursday, the 15th day of November, 1866, at four o'clock in the afternoon,
ALL those BLAST FURNACES, situate at Soudley, in the Forest of Dean, and Parish of Newnham, the County of Gloucester, called the " SOUDLEY IRON WORKS," with the Machinery, Yards, and Land thereunto belonging, and containing together about twelve acres, (more less.)
Also the GALE OF IRON ORE, known by the name of "TINGLE'S LEVEL," the said Forest Dean.
The above-mentioned Furnaces are most advantageously situate about a mile and a quarter from the Shipping Port of Bullo, on the river Severn, and close to the Dean Forest Branch of the South Wales Railway. Abundant supplies of Ore, Lime Stone, Cinder, and Coal, can be obtained in the said Forest, and Coke, by means of Railway at a moderate oost for freight, from Wales. The water never fails in the dryest seasons.
The Furnaces have been for several years past, and are now in full and active operation, and will be sold as a going concern.
They have during the last three years been carried on by Messrs. Goold Brothers, and, as (in consequence of the death of one of the Partners) a change in the Firm necessarily takes place, they are now in the market.
Part of the purchase money may, if required, remain on mortgage, and one of the surviving partners would be willing to continue part owner, and to join any respectable persons in the purchase of the Property. The Purchaser will have the opportunity of buying a moiety of that portion of the Findall Iron Mine Work, near to the said Furnaces, now the property of Messrs. Goold and Cooper. For a view of the Property and further particulars apply to Mr. Alfred Goold, or Mr. Tom Goold, both of Newnham, in the County of Gloucester.'[3]

1867 'FOREST OF DEAN. Soudley Furnaces. — The Iron Trade in Dean Forest. —We are pleased to be able to record the reopening of these works after having been closed for six months, during which period some of the elder workmen have experienced really "hard times." Other work in the Forest, however, has been good. Unfortunately the winter has been very protracted, which added to the misfortune of the Soudley men. Now one furnace has been thoroughly repaired and a new blast oven erected. The full blast has not yet been put on, but when this is practicable tbe company hope to produce a good quantity of iron daily. It is pleasing to add that they are well supplied with orders, and that the future prospects are good. The Forest of Dean iron trade gradually improving, and tbe coal trade remains good.'[4]

1877 A series of advertisements were placed by T. W. Breckon on behalf of the Great Western Iron Co Ltd for the designs, specifications and tenders for: providing covering for their coke bank at Soudley and the bank at Find-All mine; a third blast furnace, stoves and connection at Soudley; two additional hot blast stoves; two calcining kilns[5].

1878 Advert: 'THE SOUDLEY IRONWORKS. Last week we recorded the registration of "The Severn Steel, Iron and Mineral Company, Limited.” It is understood that the new company is in great measure a reconstruction of the Great Western Iron Company, who carried on business at the Soudley works. Their enterprising managing director, Mr. A. Duff Morison, has for some time past been desirous of adding the manufacture of steel, and having reconstructed the firm—the registration of which took place on the 28th ult., with a capital of £200,000—it is hoped that very shortly the wheels at Soudley will be again in motion. The shares (£20 each) are guaranteed at five per cent, for a period of five years, and notwithstanding the long period of depression the entire capital has been subscribed. Having purchased all the properties and businesses of their predecessors, the new company intend to add thereto the manufacture of steel by certain processes of direct conversion of the iron pigs into steel ingots and any consequent business connected with the steel trade, and at the same time to supply the pig so well known in the trade. Further, it is intended to manufacture silicate cotton and other products from the slag. It will be remembered that the old company purchased works a few years ago and expended thousands of pounds in extending and remodelling the property, replacing the old plant with modern appliances for iron making on the economic hot blast principle. A year ago iron making ceased at Soudley; not, howeyer, as is affirmed, because iron could not be made with profit, but owing to unfortunate internal misunderstandings between some of the shareholders. In fact, it is well known that at the time of stopping the firm had important orders upon their books. The principal shareholders of the old company are now in the new, viz., Messrs. Robt. McEwen, chairman of the Manchester Stock Exchange; Townshend Kirkwood, J.P., of Yeo Vale, Bideford, deputy-chairman of the Llanelly Docks and Railway Company; S. De Vere Beauclerk, stock broker, London ; Chas. Grundy, of Budge-row, solicitor, London; A. Duff Morison, iron master, Bradley House, Newnham ; J. Morison Kirkwood, Gore Court, Maidstone, land proprietor; and Franklin Brown, LL.B., solicitor, of Budge-row, London. Messrs. McEwen, T. Kirkwood, and A. Duff Morison are the first three directors, who subscribe £2,500 each. Within the last year the Great Western Iron Company erected a new chimney shaft, 160 feet high, which is the highest and finest piece of work of its kind in the Forest; a new furnace has been added, an additional railway siding, new blast engine capable of giving sufficient blast for three furnaces, and a site has been secured for a third furnace at a small cost. Arrangements have been made for the covering in of the coke and ore banks with an iron roof, to avoid the injurious effects of the weather and waste of fuel in the furnaces. Other arrangements are likewise being made, from which large savings are expected in the cost of the manufacture of iron. The proprietors, moreover, have based their calculations upon present low prices — that is to say, they have assumed the existing condition of affairs in the iron and steel trades to be the level at which they will have to compete with other works. It is to be hoped that very shortly further particulars may be obtained in regard to their new manufacture of steel, the only objection to withholding them being certain patent rights. It may be added that the old title would have been retained had not some difficulties arisen in connection with the registration, besides, it was thought the present title would connect them more closely with the district.'[6]

1899 'FOREST OF DEAN IRONWORKS TO BE DISMANTLED. In the middle of this century iron-making flourished at Parkend Ironworks, Cinderford, and Soudley, but for some time the two former, works have closed. We understand that the works at Soudley are now closed, as the mortgagors of the Soudley Ironworks, near Blakeney, have resolved to sell the two iron furnaces, which are of modern construction. The works were for some time the property of the family, who were very successful makers of iron. They were afterwards sold to a company, but iron trade depression set in, and although for some time the works were carried on by the use of Spanish ore, the railway rates eventually killed this. The situation is very disheartening, because iron has been smelted in the Forest since the time of the Conquest. In 1873 over 200,000 tons ore were raised, but at the preseut day the output is only about 20,000 tons.'[7]

1899 'SOUDLEY IRON WORKS. One the large chimney stacks at these ironworks was successfully lowered on Monday evening in the presence of a large company of people. The stack was 150 ft. high, square built, and measured 15ft. the base, tapering to 11ft. at the top. The plan was to take out part of the brickwork on the south side, which was then shored; afterwards the two corners were weakened, and then, when the wood blocks had been bored, the huge chimney fell. It was expected that the event would have come off at two o’clock, but it was six o’clock before the chimney actually came down. The lot, well as another very large stack, was purchased by Mr. G. W. Penfold, of Newport, general merchant, whose representative Mr. A. R. Bryant, superintended the work, and the contract of throwing the chimney was under-let to Mr. Harry Williams. The chimney was braced together on all sides, and though some thought it would fall like a stick, the fact was that on coming into contact with the ground the chimney was thoroughly shaken in pieces. These works, which were modernised 28 years ago, have almost ever since then been idle, and whilst the whole plant was disposed for less than £3,000, it is stated that mortgage and mortgage interest upon it reached nearly £50,000. The two furnaces were built in 1839, and with their demolition disappears the last vestige of evidence indicating that the Foreet of Dean was ones ironproducing district.SOUDLEY IRON WORKS. One the large chimney stacks at these ironworks was successfully lowered on Monday evening in the presence of a large company of people. The stack was 150 ft. high, square built, and measured 15ft. the base, tapering to 11ft. at the top. The plan was to take out part of the brickwork on the south side, which was then shored; afterwards the two corners were weakened, and then, when the wood blocks had been bored, the huge chimney fell. It was expected that the event would have come off at two o’clock, but it was six o’clock before the chimney actually came down. The lot, well as another very large stack, was purchased by Mr. G. W. Penfold, of Newport, general merchant, whose representative Mr. A. R. Bryant, superintended the work, and the contract of throwing the chimney was under-let to Mr. Harry Williams. The chimney was braced together on all sides, and though some thought it would fall like a stick, the fact was that on coming into contact with the ground the chimney was thoroughly shaken in pieces. These works, which were modernised 28 years ago, have almost ever since then been idle, and whilst the whole plant was disposed for less than £3,000, it is stated that mortgage and mortgage interest upon it reached nearly £50,000. The two furnaces were built in 1839, and with their demolition disappears the last vestige of evidence indicating that the Foreet of Dean was ones ironproducing district.'[8]

The Site Today

The remains of the ironworks are located in a valley half a mile south of Dean Heritage Centre. In 'The Industrial History of Dean' Cyril Hart included a photograph of the works in the 19th century, looking towards the north west[9]. Comparing that photograph with the 2014 photo, it appears that the high wall on the right would have provided the access to the charging floor immediately above the present track. The old photo shows a works locomotive waiting just outside the pair of arches supporting the charging shed, the track being adjacent to the high wall. To the left of the track was a pair of blast furnaces, and to the left of those, the casting house where the iron pigs would have been cast. In the foreground (of the old photo) is a blowing engine house with a tall square chimney stack. On the far side of the charging floor was a similar chimney, purpose not known. Where the bridge is seen in the recent photograph, crossing a stream, there appears to be a dam with an overflow in the old photo. Immediately downstream of the dam, to the right of the overflow, was what appears to be an older industrial building. Beyond the dam was a railway siding containing wagons, with the mouth of a tunnel beyond.

Further information can be obtained from another source, which includes a photograph, looking south, and a sketch map[10]. The photo shows that the railway curving towards Haie Tunnel has longitudinal sleepers, suggesting GWR broad gauge. The date of the photo is given as 1876/7, but in fact the the gauge was changed to standard in 1872. The purpose of the second chimney stack was unclear (however, see below). Again, the locomotive is posed for the camera, and we learn that it was bought in 1876 from Fox, Walker and Co. The siding is marked on the sketch map as Cooper's Siding, and immediately north of the siding is 'Tilting Mill Pond'. This may imply that the older building seen in the other photo was an earlier forge. The railway, briefly emerging into daylight from Haie Hill Tunnel, headed north west to be plunged into darkness again in Bradley Hill Tunnel, emerging on the approach to Upper Soudley Halt. Before the Halt a line branched off in a north easterly direction to curve back round past Camp Mill and return to rejoin the main line at the entrance to Haie Hill Tunnel. Cooper's siding served to load coal from a nearby mine.

Another source provides a brief history and excellent illustrations[11]. One photo shows the blowing engine standing in the open air, several years after the demolition of its engine house. The engine was made by the Haigh Foundry Co in 1874, and was probably bought c.1907 by the Staffordshire Iron and Coal Co. The second tall chimney, mentioned above, was the tallest in the Forest of Dean, but it was never used, as the works appears to have closed the year after construction started.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'The Industrial History of Dean' by Cyril Hart: David & Charles, 1971, p.149
  2. Gloucester Journal - Saturday 22 October 1842
  3. Gloucester Journal, 10 November 1866
  4. Hereford Times, 25 May 1867
  5. Gloucester Journal - Saturday 14 July 1877
  6. Gloucester Journal, 7 September 1878
  7. Cheltenham Chronicle, 1 April 1899
  8. Gloucester Journal, 20 May 1899
  9. 'The Industrial History of Dean' by Cyril Hart: David & Charles, 1971, Plate 11
  10. 'The Great Western Railway in Dean' by H. W. Paar, David & Charles, 1971
  11. 'The Forest of Dean Branch Volume 1' by Ian Pope and Paul Karau, Wild Swan Publications, 1992